Opinion » Ted Rall

Awaiting a Slut Moment

When will we admit that everybody cheats?

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We need a Slut Moment. As CIA director, David Petraeus led an organization that carries out extra-judicial assassinations, overthrows foreign heads of state and fires drone missiles at innocent civilians. For his performance as a leading state terrorist, Gen. Petraeus received four stars, 28 motorcycle policemen to escort him to a girlfriend's house and nearly universal acclaim.

For cheating on his wife, he was forced to resign in disgrace.

What is wrong with our values? I wouldn't lay it on quite as thickly as John Prados, senior research fellow at the National Security Archive did in The Washington Post: "Because of an affair that had already ended, the nation this month lost the services of a highly skilled public servant. The hysterical reaction to the news of then-CIA Director David Petraeus's liaison with his biographer, Paula Broadwell, has done more to harm national security than the affair itself."

Still, I agree with Prados's broader point. What happened to Petraeus--and Anthony Weiner and Eliot Spitzer and Bill Clinton and Larry Craig and John Edwards--was stupid.

Whether you're a small-government conservative or a liberal libertine, one thing all Americans ought to agree upon is that we're entitled to privacy in our sex lives. As long as the sex is consensual, what happens in the bedroom is nobody's business but the two people involved. Or three. Or seven.

Cheating on your spouse shouldn't cost you your career. Especially when so many of us do it.

Laws and social mores that don't reflect the behavior of the majority of the population do more harm than good, corroding respect for government and society while turning too many people into criminals and pariahs. That's why Prohibition failed: Too many Americans drank.

As Aharon Barak wrote, "When social reality changes, the law must change, too."

Like drinking, cheating is so popular and widespread that punishing people for sleeping with more than one officially recognized partner is counterproductive.

"Estimates today find married men cheating at rates between 25 percent and 72 percent," wrote Eric Anderson, author of The Monogamy Gap. For example: "In a 1991 study, sex researcher Shere Hite found that 70 percent of married women have cheated on their partners; a 1993 follow-up study found that 72 percent of married men have as well."

When anywhere from a quarter to three-quarters of a population does something, it's not a moral failing. It's standard human behavior.

Yet the gap between reality and expectation is growing rather than shrinking. "More Americans today (80 percent) say infidelity is "always wrong" than in 1970 (70 percent). And a full 99 percent of Americans say they expect their spouse to be faithful. Monogamy, at least as an ideal, is stronger than ever in this country even as it slips elsewhere," Bret Schulte wrote in U.S. News & World Report in 2008.

How do we stop this madness? We need a Slut Moment--a public self-outing by a popular celebrity. Someone who stands up and tells the world: I am a slut. I enjoy sex with more than one partner.

Imagine if, instead of denying that he had sex with "that woman, Monica Lewinsky," Clinton had looked straight into the camera and told the truth, not merely "coming clean" but unashamedly stating that yeah, he had had sex with a woman who was not his wife, and so what?

His military and government careers in ruins, Petraeus missed an opportunity to make history. Rather than slink off with "I messed up" as his terse professional epitaph, Petraeus ought to have ditched the Scarlet Letter and stood tall.

The general's surrogates have been ordered to say he's "ashamed" and working on his marriage and sucking up to his betrayed wife. Which is ridiculous. He certainly wasn't ashamed while he was rolling around naked with Broadwell--and rightly so. He was having some harmless fun.

Someday a famous slutty celebrity will liberate us from the shackles of phony BS monogamism, freeing us to reveal ourselves for who we really are: a nation of sluts.

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